Friday 21 August 2015

Egypt’s “Anti-Terror” Law Further Limits Free Speech

Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Egypt, detained, photojournalist, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi
Mahmoud Abou Zeid [Source: CPJ]
August 14, 2013: Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid was detained while covering a pro-Morsi sit in. He remains imprisoned, without charges or trial.
Saeed Abuhaj, Muslim Brotherhood leaflet, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt
Saeed Abuhaj [Source: CPJ]

November 4, 2013: Egyptian videographer Saeed Abuhaj was arrested on anti-state charges. While filming a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration, he was found carrying a leaflet in support of the outlawed organization. A trial date has not been established.

April 9, 2014: Egyptian Freedom and Justice Gate correspondent Abdel Rahman Shaheen was arrested on charges of inciting and committing violence during protests. In February 2015, charges of aiding terrorism and broadcasting false news were added.

January 31, 2015: Egyptian Freedom and Justice Gate editor and cultural affairs correspondent Ahmed el-Tanobi was arrested for “incitement against the government,” “participating in illegal protests,” and belonging to an “illegal group.” Tanobi was released with bail on June 9.

August 16, 2015: Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi signed an “anti-terrorism” bill into law.

In short, a bad situation just became far worse. 

Currently, 22 journalists are imprisoned for their reporting on Egyptian affairs. Sisi’s new law will only serve to expand the state’s ability to punish freedom of expression. 

As the BBC News explained, under the new law:

  • Trials for suspected militants will be fast-tracked through special courts. Anyone found guilty of joining a militant group could face 10 years in prison
  • Financing terrorist groups will also carry a penalty of life in prison (25 years)
  • Inciting violence or creating websites deemed to spread terrorist messages will carry sentences of five to seven years
  • Journalists can be fined between 200,000 and 500,000 ($25,500-$64,000) Egyptian pounds for contradicting official accounts of militant attacks

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Sherif Mansour remarked, “As of today, journalists are legally prohibited from investigating, verifying, and reporting on one of the most important matters of public interest. The state has effectively made itself the only permissible source of news on these stories.”

The law, however, will not stop at published journalists. It broadly defines terrorism as any act designed to harm public order, social peace or national unity, consequently posing a threat to a long list of individuals who do not see eye-to-eye with Sisi. 

According to BBC columnist Bill Thompson, “They’re trying to control all of the avenues through which information can get to people because they’re concerned about the impact it might have. And even if the intentions are good, it will have a chilling effect because the penalties can be so severe…I just worry that the flow of information particularly within Egypt about these important things is going to be so limited that the population won’t have the information they need to make good choices or to influence the policy of the government. It gets in the way of politics if you say you can’t say anything except what the government allows. That’s the danger.”

Sisi’s strict anti-terrorism law is largely an attempt to maintain order in the face of increasingly routine jihadist attacks and the assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in particular. If the events immediately following the signing of the law are any indication—peacekeepers looking to pull out of the Sinai Peninsula, a security building bombed, and four Palestinians kidnapped—the law will bring anything but peace.

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